I Can still hear you saying you will never break the chain….



No, I’m not humming Fleetwood Mac…I can’t even sing right now. I am speaking of the first encounter I have had with a blatant human rights abuse I feel, will take a long time to change. I could not give my full opinion on what I saw at a Prayer Camp in rural Ghana on my jhr blog. All I can say is I felt for this woman you see in the photo. I felt for her in a way that detached me from the story I was supposed to be doing. I became personally connected when I am meant to stay impartial.

This woman who’s name is not even known was brought to a prayer camp like millions of others before her. Prayer Camps are aptly named to imply that if you come, your soul will be cleansed by Jesus and whatever impairment you have will be exorcised out of you more or less. That which is fixed with a bottle of prescription Paxil cocktails in North America is fixed by chaining or cuffing the ankles of the person suffering from mental illness. They are kept encased in iron while they are given cocktails of their own-Oil tinted with red food coloring that represents the blood of Jesus, Leaves that are crushed into a “cure”. You name it, it’s injested. MOst of the people who treat the problem have no background in Psychiatric care though even if a “crazy” person wanted that assistance they’d be hard pressed to find it in a country where there are 9 working Psychiatrists. Some of the women brought to theseprayer camps suffer from no more than being left at the alter. To get personal,I went a little crazy when I had a breakup….but my family didn’t bring me to a secluded village where I don’t know a soul and leave me in the hands of some crack pot herbalist. Below is a posting from jhr.ca before I lose my internet connection.

Revision of Health Law Wanting in Ghana’

‘Oh, sister cover your eyes’

I’m grabbed by the shoulder, spun 180 degrees and I feel the coverlet of darkness on my eyes.

I can hear the rattle of a dog chain, that’s it. I unravel myself and turn to look at what I’ve been ordered to block.

Standing with her left foot chained to a tree is a girl of about 22-years old.

‘Cover yourself’ yells herbalist Atete Atempon, barely stifling his smirking face.

I don’t know why he’s smirking when there’s a human being with her legs, and life bound by iron.

The girl stands, legs akimbo with her cloth loosely hanging from her hips. Her breasts are exposed and she’s trying to show me the rest of herself. She smiles a doped up smile as two servants of Atempon rush to unchain her. They know I’m quizzically wondering ‘Why?’ and are industrially making her go away before I start asking questions.

We’ve come to the Herbalist Centre to interview Atempon on his supposed cure for AIDS. I now want to repurpose my trip to include this woman, and the reason she’s been chained to a tree. If I get my wish it will mean losing the interview Edem Srem, the reporter I am paired with, prepared.

Ethics. Fairness. I decide to stay mute and once the girl is covered up, unchained and led away screaming. I sit down in the chair that’s been put before me as Atempon mutters ‘sorry uh.’

We conduct the interview, the entire time I am wondering if my camera captured this…seemingly unthinkable act against a mentally ill human being.

Dr Akwasi Osei is Acting Chief Psychiatrist of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital In Ghana. According to him about 2.4 million of the country’s population are persons with disabilities and most live on the peripheries of society. Fringes like Suhulm, a small village in the Eastern Region of Ghana where Atempon works his ‘magic’ by concocting oils, and drinkables, he says, can cure AIDS and make the insane, sane. I’m not sure how chaining or encasing one’s ankles in an iron prison does that…Dr.Osei isn’t sure either. He says a Disability Bill was passed in 2006 that called on government to conform to treaties and conventions they had signed to make crimes against mentally ill illegal. As it stands, Osei sites only two percent of the 2.4 million people living with mental illness have access to adequate treatment and care. There are a meager none practicing Psychiatrists in the whole of Ghana, and they are stifled when it comes to reaching even half the cases they want to through the healthcare system.

That’s why this girl is chained to a mango tree in the backyard of a herbalist.

Though the World Health Organization has hopped on board to assist chief psychiatrists like Dr. Osei in eradicating mistreatment in all of West Africa, human rights violations proliferate, especially in rural communities. In Ghana, the spread of spiritual churches, prayer camps and other unorthodox institutions has become a threat to patient’s rights and appropriate treatment and the WHO knows it. Still Dr. Osei and others like him say they have a long road ahead convincing the public and government to erase the stigma attached to the mentally ill, and even those that work in the field.

I go out on a limb as we cross the threshold of Atempon’s laboratory of blood red oils that are ingested and smeared on patients brought by family members who say someone has become possessed or witched. I ask him if he has any background in mental health.

‘I know how to cure anything,’ he says. As he jerks his head in the direction of the tree he mumbles ‘in two weeks the girl that was there will be fine.’

Another two weeks of being chained and exorcised it seems will cure this girl…magically.

Though I am feeling slightly turned off by this man’s entire approach to health in general, I am optimistic that Ghana, as a country, must have its finger on the pulse of progression in the area of mental health. Dr. Osei told the World Health Organization Ghana has come a long way since its Lunatic Asylum Order was instituted in 1888. Until 1972 the mental health laws of the country virtually criminalized mental illness. He notes that though there have been many revisions to the mental health law not much has been achieved in terms of protection and reduction in the level of treatment of the mentally ill.

Dr. Osei continues to work tirelessly with the WHO and Ministry of Health to revise current laws that allow anyone with a backwoods degree in Psychiatric Health to practice any kind of inhumane ‘cleansings’. He says a revised has gone through 10 drafts and the hope Parliament would pass the Bill into law by the end of the year.

As we leave the compound I hear the girl screaming as she is doused with cold water and barked at by her two keepers.

‘I’m not sure that’s exorcising her demons,’ I say to Edem.

‘ We needed to get the interview’, he shrugs….’but it is sad.’

One thought on “I Can still hear you saying you will never break the chain….”

  1. Kim Humes says:

    It’s Kim from Pharmasave! Well, not there now, but formerly :) Good to see the blog is up and running. Jenn sent me the link to the blog, so I’m definitely going to follow your adventures! Wow sounds like you’re having an amazing experience! Take care

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